China's Type 002 Shandong aircraft carrier. Photo: Xinhua

As the tragic war in Ukraine continues – a conflict Russian President Vladimir Putin ultimately chose, but influenced by multiple rounds of NATO expansion and moves to include Ukraine and Georgia – many are pondering how to deter potential Chinese aggression in the Indo-Pacific region.

But instead of deterring Beijing, increasing the pressure will likely cause China to double down on its national-security aims and increase the chance it will use force to accomplish them – meaning the United States could be more easily dragged into a deadly war. Not only is this against American interests, but attempting to securitize the Indo-Pacific region further with an “Asian NATO” won’t work and would be a waste of resources.

Avoiding a catastrophic war with China – one that could turn nuclear – is a vital American interest. An Indo-Pacific equivalent to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization would increase the chance of conflict.

Beijing has been clear that it opposes NATO expansion to the Indo-Pacific or a military alliance formed to contain it – like a Quad collective security arrangement. China won’t tolerate a 21st century Eight Nation Alliance along its borders.

The world saw how Mao Zedong reacted when UN-authorized soldiers threatened to approach the Yalu River during the Korean War. Beijing would likely move to counter this form of containment by expanding and hardening its military positions in the South China Sea and along its Himalayan border.

China might even choose to strike before an Asian NATO could operationalize in order to achieve its security objectives.

These core interests – among them Taiwan and various territorial disputes – are matters of political legitimacy for the Communist Party of China and would be for any Chinese regime. It might rather risk attempting complete reunification within a narrow window of opportunity than suffer political consequences at home.

Because these issues matter more to Beijing – control over uninhabited rocks in the ocean and inhospitable mountains – China will be more willing to fight for them. Instead of deterrence, the United States and its expanded alliance network would be dragged into a costly conflict.

Target countries of an Indo-Pacific NATO or an expanded, collective-security-oriented Quad have territorial disputes with China. These countries would expect Washington to come to their defense should Beijing attack.

Such a war would likely see tens of thousands of American casualties and deaths, billions of dollars’ worth of lost equipment, and high medical and familial costs to veterans and their families. Not to mention the untold damage to US economic power and the global economy.

These tragedies would harm the United States and make it weaker. A nuclear exchange with Beijing would likely end it.

Besides the fact that an Indo-Pacific version of NATO wouldn’t be in American interests, regional states don’t want one. Indo-Pacific countries don’t want to choose between the United States and China.

Recent survey data show that members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations are warming up to Beijing’s influence, but with plenty of room for US engagement. And India – seen as the key to Chinese containment – doesn’t appear interested in a military alliance. In fact, New Delhi’s recent UN abstentions over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine demonstrate the limits of India’s desire to join the West in a new cold war.

Instead of wasting resources on an unworkable proposition harmful to US interests, Washington should advance its interests by focusing on things regional states actually want.

Rather than sell allies prestige weapons like nuclear submarines that will do little for deterrence, the United States should focus on helping its allies acquire defensive equipment that could deny operational access to Chinese forces. Think anti-ship and other missiles, mines, and quieter diesel submarines.

But beyond encouraging allies to take more responsibility for their own defense, the United States needs to develop and implement a trade and economic strategy – not an unenforceable piece of paper – toward the region to level the playing field, create and protect jobs for American workers, increase access for American companies, and contribute to economic growth.

Indo-Pacific countries will appreciate it, and it could even build leverage for Chinese trade and economic negotiations.

Finally, Washington should drop its democracy-versus-autocracy rhetoric when it comes to the region. Many of the countries the US wishes to sway are far from shining examples of democracy.

While the United States should remain true to itself, it should save the values and human-rights talk for private diplomacy to avoid upsetting regional capitals. This is a small price to pay to advance economic interests. Plus, it could help reduce a tension point with Beijing.

An Indo-Pacific NATO would increase the chance of dragging the United States into a devastating war and deprive it from securing its vital interests. Any US administration will need to take into consideration the interests of regional countries to find the best path forward for the American people.

Quinn Marschik is a contributing fellow at Defense Priorities and the lead Indo-Pacific analyst at a global consulting firm. He was the policy adviser to the deputy undersecretary for international affairs at the US Department of Labor during Donald Trump's administration.